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Habitual Snoring Can Be a Sign of a Serious Health Problem


  • Snoring can be a sign of a serious health problem, including obstructive sleep apnea that can increase the risk of hypertension, stroke, arrhythmia, cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the muscle tissue of the heart), congestive heart failure, diabetes and heart attack.
  • How is obstructive sleep apnea diagnosed? A sleep test or polysomnogram is used to diagnose sleep quality and sleep disorders, including obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea can be treated through weight loss, exercise, sleep on side position, mechanical therapy, such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), a dental device and surgery.


Snoring is caused by a partially closed upper airway (nose and throat) which can disturb your sleep and your partner sleeping beside you. Snoring may be an early sign of obstructive sleep apnea that prevents you from getting the healthy sleep you need to lead a refreshed, energetic life. Snoring has also been linked to serious health problems, including hypertension, stroke, arrhythmia, cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the muscle tissue of the heart), congestive heart failure, diabetes and heart attacks. If you are a habitual snorer, consider it a sign that something might not be right.

Type of snoring

  • Primary snoring is characterized by loud upper airway breathing sounds during sleep without episodes of apnea (cessation of breath). This is a completely harmless condition but can disturb the sleep of those close to you.
  • Upper airway resistance and obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep breathing disorder that is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses during sleep. When this happens, the person isn’t taking in enough air for the body to perform its important functions. The brain responds to this condition by alerting the body, causing a brief arousal from sleep to get the air. This pattern can occur hundreds of times in one night. Patients with this condition will tend to wake frequently throughout the night and be left feeling like they have not received enough rest, despite actually being in bed for the proper amount of time. Additionally, the condition can have a detrimental effect on the patient’s health in terms of an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, arrhythmia, stroke, cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the muscle tissue of the heart), congestive heart failure, diabetes and coronary artery disease, as well as an increased likelihood of sudden cardiac arrest and stroke.

Risk factors that indicate whether you could be at risk of developing an obstructive sleep apnea:

  • Old age causes a reduction of the upper airway’s size and a loss of pharyngeal dilator muscle tone during sleep, producing a narrowing and occlusion of the pharyngeal airway.
  • Men snore more than women due to the female hormone playing a role in keeping the pharyngeal dilator muscle tone.
  • Obesity leads to an accumulation of fat around the airways that reduces the size of the upper airway.
  • Any condition that leads to blocked nose, such as allergic rhinitis, deviated nasal septum or nasal polyps.
  • Narrow upper airway due to comparatively large tongue, tonsils or uvula.
  • Craniofacial structure can affect snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, such as small lower jaw or recessed chin.
  • Alcohol and sleeping pills affect the part of the brain that controls breathing. This may relax the muscle tone and soft tissue in the throat, causing a narrowing of the airway.
  • Smoking causes airway inflammation and smoking-related diseases.
  • Genetics also play a part. It has been found that people with a family history of snoring or obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to experience the condition themselves.

How is obstructive sleep apnea diagnosed?

The diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea is relatively straightforward, based on risk factor, sleep history and an overnight sleep test called polysomnogram. Polysomnography is performed in a sleep laboratory under the direct supervision of a trained technologist. During the test, a variety of body functions are recorded during sleep, such as the electrical activity of the brain, eye movements, muscle activity, heart rate, breathing patterns, airflow and blood oxygen levels.

The test analyzes sleep quality over the course of a night, providing data related to the number of sleep apnea events, deep-sleep duration, occurrences of sleep movement and blood oxygen levels, all which can offer a clearer picture regarding the condition’s severity.

Treatment for snoring or obstructive sleep apnea

  • Conservative treatment: In snoring or mild cases of obstructive sleep apnea, conservative therapy may be all that’s needed. Obese persons can benefit from losing weight. Even a 10% weight loss can reduce the number of snoring and apneic events for most patient. Avoid the use of alcohol and sleeping pills, which make the airway more likely to collapse during sleep. In some patients, snoring or sleep apnea occur only when they sleep on their backs. In such cases, using a pillows and other devices may be helpful in assisting them sleep in a side position. People with sinus problems or nasal congestion should use nasal spray to reduce snoring and improve airflow for more comfortable nighttime breathing.
  • Mechanical therapy: Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the first line treatment for most people with obstructive sleep apnea. With CPAP, the patient wears a mask over the nose and/or mouth. An air blower forces air through the nose and/or mouth. The air pressure is adjusted, so that it is just enough to prevent the upper airway tissues from collapsing during sleep.
  • Oral appliance therapy: Oral appliance can prevent the tongue from blocking the throat and/or advance the lower jaw forward. These devices help keep the airway open during sleep. A sleep specialist and prosthodontist (with expertise in oral appliances for this purpose) should jointly determine whether this treatment is best for you.
  • Surgery: Surgery may help people with snoring and sleep apnea. There are many types of surgical procedures, some of which are performed as outpatient procedures. Surgery is reserved for people who have excessive or malformed tissue obstructing airflow through the nose or throat, such as enlarged tonsils, nasal polyps or a small lower jaw that causes the throat to be abnormally narrow.

Habitual snoring could be an early warning sign of a dangerous condition. If you have a habitual snore and other symptoms of sleep apnea, such as daytime sleepiness or fatigue, please make an appointment to see your doctor to receive advice and a personalized treatment plan.

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